By 90Min
August 14, 2018

Tuesday 12th August, 2003. Almost 15 years to the day, a skinny, unfamiliar teenager rocked up at Old Trafford having been lauded as the next big thing, with Sir Alex Ferguson shelling out over £10m to sign what was then an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo

Saturday 11th August, 2018. A 26-year-old Wilfried Zaha, signed by Man United in similar fashion to the adolescent Portuguese as a spindly but mesmerising 20-year-old back in 2013, nets on the opening day against Fulham having been tipped for a £70m move away. 

Understandably, and fairly, you've probably just laughed out loud at the mere fact that one of, if not the world's greatest player has even been mentioned in the same sentence as a Crystal Palace academy product, but don't scoff just yet. 

Sir Alex Ferguson was a genius. That, we can all agree on. The man won Premier League title after title with the likes of Fabio, Bebe, and Phil Jones. Manchester United's decline since his retirement is no coincidence; the legendary Scot ran things from top to bottom at arguably the most successful club in world football at the time. 

Ferguson was a coach like no other. The meteoric rise that Ronaldo has embarked on since that day back in 2003 has been astonishing to witness, but it hasn't all been down to the Juventus forward's doing, even despite his commendable commitment to his profession. 

Ronaldo has so often cited his time at United under Ferguson as the making of him. 

"Ferguson had never treated any other player with the same respect and affection as he did Ronaldo. The squad would make jokes about the special relationship with a mixture of laughter and envy: 'He’s your dad; he’s your dad!'”, read an extract from the forward's biography.

Just look at this video of the Scot waiting for Ronaldo after Portugal's European Championship success, like a proud father waiting for his son. There is no way you can suggest that Ronaldo's career would've been this illustrious without the influence of the iconic boss. 

And so, back onto the topic of Wilfried Zaha. Ferguson was so excited by the youngster at the time of Zaha's signing that he remained in England for talks with the Ivory Coast born forward, whilst his Man Utd squad flew out to Qatar for a short training camp. 

A £15m January move materialised, with Zaha loaned back to Palace for the remainder of the 2012/13 season, intent on gaining promotion with the Eagles and then becoming a star at Old Trafford. 

However, only one of those things came to fruition. Upon his return to Manchester, a 20-year-old was hit with the realisation that the man who had signed him would no longer be in his role. 

Ferguson had decided to retire, and David Moyes was the man entrusted to carry on his legacy as well as unlock Zaha's obvious world class ability. 

It was world class, before you scoff. It is even world class now at this current time. Let's not kid ourselves here, if Sir Alex Ferguson had stayed, Wilfried Zaha would be one of the world's best players right now, that's a fact. 

Instead of receiving the same fatherly treatment as Ronaldo got, Zaha was instead given just 28 minutes in the Premier League by Moyes to strut his stuff before being shipped out on loan to Cardiff

United finished seventh. Louis van Gaal replaced the depleted and exhausted Moyes, proceeding to ship Zaha back to south London on loan. 

Having been with the club since the age of 12, the Palace fan favourite had no qualms about this move as opposed to the one to Wales, deciding to get his head down and focus on his football after his Old Trafford nightmare. 

As much as those inside Selhurst Park have somewhat selfishly enjoyed his return, there is still an begrudging feeling that their academy graduate could have gone on to dominate the game at the highest level had things been different. 

Numerous managerial changes and relegation battles still ended up taking Zaha's game to the level that all who have followed Palace over the years felt it would get to, the only frustrating thing being that this way was most certainly the long way round. 

Of course, there are no shortcuts in football. But with Ferguson's tutelage and unrivalled management skills, Zaha's stunted progression in the game may be one of English football's most regrettable situations.  

We could be talking about an England star, the first name on the Three Lions' teamsheet, pinning our hopes on him at every major tournament the same way we used to do with Wayne Rooney and now Harry Kane

Instead, we are enjoying one of the Premier League's most exciting stars, but perhaps several years too late. Six years after his botched move to Manchester, Wilf Zaha is only just reaching the peaks of his powers, but oh how much better he could be right now...

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